Racing round-up: Thistlecrack on course to add his name to elite list

Big Buck’s, My Way De Solzen, Baracouda – the roll call of Long Walk Hurdle winners that have gone on to take the Ladbrokes World Hurdle is a pretty elite one, but could we see another name added to that list in March?

The aforementioned trio did the double in the same season six times this century, highlighting that Ascot’s Grade 1 event is a pretty good indicator towards Cheltenham.

And if Thistlecrack’s performance in Berkshire is anything to go by, it will take something very good to stop him adding his name to that list.

Colin Tizzard’s gelding has been a revelation since being upped in trip at Aintree last April, when cruising clear to take the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle.

A runner-up finish at Punchestown followed but he made amends for that narrow defeat on reappearance when taking the Long Distance Hurdle on Hennessy Day at Newbury.

Last weekend’s race was down as another test of his credentials, but in truth you would barely have known it.

While chief market rival Saphir Du Rheu floundered up the home straight and three-time winner of the race Reve De Sivola ran his usual admirable race, the 2/1 shot was bolting home.

Travelling like a train, jumping with ease and efficiency and quickening up under a grinning Tom Scudamore, he showed that he has improved even more since his seasonal reappearance.

The game Reve De Sivola just couldn't cope with Thistlecrack

The game Reve De Sivola just couldn’t cope with Thistlecrack

The reaction in the betting was instantaneous, as Ladbrokes cut the price of the seven-year-old to 4/1 from 8/1 for the Grade 1 staying hurdle at the Festival.

But it appears punters were even more impressed as the money continued to flow, causing the bookies to go 3/1 and eventually 5/2 on the eight-length winner.

While the impression he gave was an exciting one, for Paul Nicholls’ horse it was a head-scratching one.

Saphir Du Rheu, returning for a third crack at hurdling looked to be running a good race before finding nothing off the bridle.

His handler has since suggested a breathing operation is on the cards to resolve the issue, but whether that has any effect will determine whether his odds of 16/1 (from 10/1) for the World Hurdle remain value.

For the moment though, the staying hurdle division is about one horse, Thistlecrack.

A familiar foe had struck less than three hours earlier at Fairyhouse, as the horse that beat the World Hurdle favourite at Punchestown in April got his chasing career off to the best possible start.

Killultagh Vic landed the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle last season and obliged at the first time of asking over the larger obstacles as a 1/5 shot should.

Ruby Walsh was able to ease down his mount in the closing stages of the Beginners Chase to score by a very handsome 15 lengths over two miles.

He’s now scored over that trip, two-and-a-half miles and three miles over obstacles in his last three runs, signalling the versatility of the six-year-old.

Killultagh Vic could have a range of options open to him

Killultagh Vic could have a range of options open to him

It could mean that where he ends up come next March is anyone’s guess, though the Ladbrokes traders have made their feelings known on the matter.

The RSA Chase is the only event the son of Old Vic is priced up for at the Festival, for which he is a 14/1 shot (from 16/1.)

Willie Mullins couldn’t just settle for one winning novice chase on the card though as he sent out Roi Des Francs to oblige in the very next race.

Beaten 59 lengths by his aforementioned stablemate at Punchestown, he looks a much better chaser than hurdler, going one better than his second place finish behind Monksland on chasing debut here.

This time around he had Sub Lieutenant, a Grade 2 winner over the smaller obstacles, six lengths back in second as the Gigginstown-owned gelding got off the mark over fences.

His odds for the RSA were clipped from 33/1 to 25/1 but he will need to reverse the form with Killultagh Vic if he is to take the Grade 1.

Trainer Mullins went on to take the next two races at Fairyhouse, until an Annie Power-like moment in the fifth race when Au Quart De Tour fell at the last with the race in the moment.

Though, with two exciting novice chasers getting off the mark, we think the Closutton trainer will be satisfied with the Saturday he enjoyed.

Willie Mullins has probably had worse Saturdays

Willie Mullins has probably had worse Saturdays

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.